Bernie Pacyniak

I realize it’s mid-February and the 2013 International Sweets & Biscuits Fair (ISM) has come and gone, but the conversations I had there continue to swirl about in my head. One of the more fascinating press conferences that was held during the show involved Barry Callebaut’s consumer trends data on chocolate.

Typically, one doesn’t see a supplier providing consumer trends information to its customers. Barry Callebaut, as the world largest’s processor of cocoa beans and chocolate, has, of course, a vested interest in helping its clients perform better. After all, selling more chocolate is the name of the game.

Nonetheless, it takes a bit of foresight to invest in what consumers are looking for in their chocolate purchases. In chatting with Sofie De Lathouwer, marketing director – food manufacturers, Western Europe, it was refreshing to hear her go into detail regarding the six trends.

First, De Lathouwer joked about the fact that Barry Callebaut presented six trends, and not the traditional 10. The key, she emphasized, was not the number of trends, but the insights, which were compiled from customers, retailers, consumers and general research.

None of the trends — daily luxuries, smart & convenient, simplicity, my food, human interest and respect and responsibility— are necessarily new or groundbreaking. (Editor’s note: You’ll find a complete article on these trends on our website). Rather, it’s how one interprets and acts on these findings that’s key.

It’s important to remember that chocolate consumers, especially women, have an emotional connection to chocolate. Manufacturers need to realize that snacking occasions, which encompass chocolate consumption, are as varied and complex as the consumers doing the snacking.

Hence, one needs to understand that convenience and comfort can also include indulgence and satiety. Mix in gifting, seasonality, sourcing, craftsmanship, exclusivity, whimsy and connectivity and it’s not hard to see that there’s room for plenty of chocolate products within the marketplace.

De Lathouwer pointed out that today’s chocolate products need to be efficient, effective and deliver maximum performance. There’s no room for mediocrity in today’s marketplace.

That was certainly made clear when I had a chance to sit down with Ulrich Zuenelli, managing director for Loacker. It’s always a privilege on my end to hear Zuenelli discuss not only what’s happening with the company, but also sharing his thoughts on the global economy. [It’s also rather nice that we do this over a lunch of speck (locally cured ham), cheese and wine, all from the famed Alto Adige region where Loacker is located].

Given his expertise (I believe he holds a master’s in economics), I’m never disappointed in hearing his insights on what’s really going on in this complicated world of finance. But one of the most significant numbers he shared with me is that Loacker managed to still post a very small gain in Italy despite the country being in a deep recession.

Considering this was accomplished despite declines in disposable income and per capita consumption in Italy is really quite amazing. And here’s where the concept of daily luxuries, convenience, value, local and responsibility come in.  Loacker has never compromised on its commitment to maintaining the highest ingredient quality, even back several years ago when vanilla was almost the equivalent of gold. Okay, exaggerating a bit, but it was pretty steep.

That doesn’t mean the company doesn’t understand the importance of providing consumers with value, be it with a King Size Wafer Classic (90 grams) or a Wafer Snack Classic (17.2 g). It all revolves around the value concept and adapting to demographics (single households) as well as the ongoing attraction of impulse sales within a broad array of channels.

The company is also looking to introduce a plain 70.2-g wafer snack bar priced at 50 euro cents as well as 12.5-g Gardena Fingers.

Although Zuenelli hopes that the Italian economy will begin to recover in 2013, he’s cognizant that half of the Europe remains engulfed in debt.

“It will take time to overcome,” he says. But providing consumers with choices, with regards to price, size and variety, keeps Loacker competitive in the toughest times. Fortunately, more than 65 percent of Loacker’s sales come from exports, which rose 18 percent. Still, the company will continue to seek out its faithful Italian consumers in Italy by catering to their wants and needs. Come better times, you can bet the company will reap the benefits of that relationship.